A Secret? How Old-Fashioned! 
Originally published by Sticky Fingers’ in FDBNHLLLTTFPARODY
edited by Evelyn Wh-ell 
Published in 'Frot the World' [Canal, 2022]
A short fiction in which a cabal of boozing jesters, a bimbo/prophet, Gaz the old-timey slut, and some punters at a gender reveal party, trip over their tongues and their technological impulses in an attempt to open a strange black box. Together, in the corner of a piss-soaked smoking area, they tug at concealment and knowing, wondering if mystery will ever become trendy again.
A bimbo who is also a prophet walks into the Babyish Babylon Bar on a Sunday night and is met by four jesters wearing checkerboard pants and spiked hats made from soft cones and pom-poms, wrapped in silvery wisps of barbed wire.
They all get a tinto de verano from Mags, the crepuscular bar butch holding court with a pubic thatch of bluebirds, twittering happily at their owners’ genitals and accepting sips of flavoured vodka from Mags’ open palm. A hen party that had wanted to match, but to do so without plastic waste because everything must be organic, for fucks sake Penelope!! had chosen to deploy the baby birds as custom fits.
With their white gloves gettin’ moist from the half-pint glasses bastardised for summer’s use, the five of them head out to the smoking area. You can smoke inside too, but it’s nice to take the fresh air, and exhale pillows of lung matter under the stars.
In the centre of the courtyard is a black box. Its surface is still, non-reflective.
Its edges offer no clear joins, causing it to appear…
“HERMETICALLY SEALED!” Petit Ami, one of the jesters, slam dunking the words into the net of the night.
“Let’s see if we can crack it open like an egg!” Bob, dancing a little jig around the box in his comically oversized steel-toe-cap shoes, to emphasise that it is…
“GO TIME!” Petit Ami, scoring premonition points again.
“I’ve got this!” the bimbo/prophet, placing the long acrylic of their pinky dead centre on the top panel, before walking a ring-o-roses around it with increasing speed, attempting to create a manual tornado. Or, at the very least use the decorative discount extension as a corkscrew.
“UNIVERSE! Give us the power to open this box!” Bob, grabbing it violently and throwing it down on the ground.
“Well, that wasn’t very compelling. Without at least some sense of poetic ceremony, it is hardly going to reveal its contents to the likes of YOU,” Henrietta, hamsterwheeling her face, nose letting off circular snorts, pupils rocking in the bottom of her corneas like ballbearings.
At the impact caused by the rash of Bob’s actions, all of their tinto de veranos quake, fall, and smash on the floor. The box, however, bounces softly like a dice to the corner of the mossy, piss-soaked courtyard.
“Well, at least we’ve opened some vessels! At least we’ve revealed some liiiiiiquid!” Bob, shrilling the words, feeling bashful at the social conundrum, calling on Time to dash earth over the drop in his gut and move them all on.
Up until this point, Turtle had been twiddling with their plushy hat, slowly pressing their fingerprints into the spikes of barbed wire. They often got anxious in situations such as this one, and hadn’t yet learned a coping mechanism other than acts of self-harm that leave no physical trace.
Taking a deep breath and calling on their strong core of self-knowledge to move the violence to a place beyond their secret pressing of metal into live flesh, Turtle ventures: “Why don’t we hang it up like a piñata and take turns to THWACK it with one of these branches? Maybe if we are blindfolded it will work! If we mimic its mystery, or you know honour it by offering up our own, maybe it will respond to us.”
Turtle bends over and picks up a lichen-smattered branch from the concrete, dropping trou at the same time, mooning to confidence.
But, inside their head: Oooooofffff… Aaaaaaaaah!! Those words sounded so weird!… No no, it was OK… Just quiet your cheeks sweetheart, you did OK, well done on just being here, no one can tell that you’re suffering on the inside.
“That’s a good idea T!” the bimbo/prophet kindly, having witnessed each small tic of Turtle’s face as the internal monologue ran under their skin, a cortisol- cranked music box. “I’ll go inside and see if the silkworms behind the bar next to the crisps have made enough for a blindfold… Oh! And I’ll get us some more drinks!”
The bimbo/prophet walks barefoot over the broken glass and heads back inside, bloody feet stamping the black and gold swirly carpet, adding to the palimpsest of Babylon.
The jesters all sit back and sink into their phones, collectively taking a ‘rest’ that would in fact only serve to high-wire their souls to a more dangerous altitude, each one taking the device out of their gaping pockets built for keeping tricks.
The bimbo/prophet returns with a baseball bat signed by Reggie Kray clenched between their gleaming veneers – a recent self-actualisation purchase – along with a fresh silk scarf tucked into the pocket of their shirt, and five brimming glasses folded artfully between their acrylics. Their feet crunch on the broken glass again as they walk back out, but no matter, because they’ve been firewalking since DAY DOT. That’s why they only get manis, never pedis.
“Take the top one! Take the top one!” B/P, their mouth climbing a cliff at speed.
“Oh noooooooo!” Turtle, startled from their screen, once again trying to pretend to be normal in their reactions, pobrecita.
With all their reaction times slowed by the collective trip to the portal, again the glasses fall to the ground…
“Wow. I should’ve seen that coming!” B/P, winking and laughing so hard that they choke a little on their own spit. “And—” cough “that.” Spit sticking, they run to the corner and vomit onto the black box.
“OH MY GODS!” Henrietta, rushing over, wrenched hard from the sparkling beige of the alternate reality.
“Sorry, with my powers and past bulimia combined, I’ve got a pretty sensitive system,” B/P explains.
“Oh well, at least we can rule out activated by liquid,” Bob, wiping the black box with his ancient bloomer sleeve, treat your pregnancy like a bulk! still ringing in his ears in the hyperactive tones of the portal.
They all take a deep breath as they’d been encouraged to do by strangers repeatedly, and take out their journals for a while.
“Now, where were we?” Henrietta, feigning tranquility.
“I don’t know. I can’t remember,” Petit Ami, shrugging once, then twice, attempting to shake something out of the shag-pile of their cells.
“Can anyone see the worm of the conversation? It must have dropped on the floor when our brains and hands took over and gave into that wretched impulse to scroll again.”—B/P
“Let’s try and get the energy back up!”—Bob
“Well obviously, but we cracked the egg of our focus didn’t we… And for what I don’t even know. Give it a minute Bob,” Petit Ami, even more pissed because her attempts at psychic shrug had only gone and pulled a muscle.
“OK!” Henrietta clapping her hands and stepping towards the box to bring it back to centre, her massive feet stepping on the wriggling worm of the first conversation, grinding its beautiful body into the broken glass, aborting it for a slightly less potent clone.
They all take a moment to mourn, and then try and get back to the box, which is now beginning to get a bit smelly from the vomit. Like most bimbo/prophets, this one had started the day with a green juice, some botox, a fight and a Maccas.
Suddenly, a gong sounds.
“Lunchtime! I’ll go in and grab us some egg and cress sarnies before all the buzzards get their fill. I know they need full tummies to watch the strippers and throw pennies in the pint glass, but we are doing IMPORTANT WORK I think…”—Henrietta
“Bring me one extra!” the bimbo/prophet stroking their now empty tum-tum with their sharpened, sunset-red acrylics.
“On it boss!” Henrietta saluting, heading inside keen for a little break and a private go on the fruities, and mebbes a quick flirt with Mags.
“RIGHT. What’s the next idea for this FUCKIN! BOX!” Bob, picking up his blunt tongue again, exacerbating it.
“Let’s try pushing on it from every side. Except oh, we lack a sixth don’t we… Well maybe someone can…” Petit Ami, trailing off to nowhere.
Turtle coils even further inside themself, their idea having been forgotten by the group. They try and climb out of the well of sadness, but give up, sit down, and gnaw on their nails, pushing the saltwater back from their ducts.
“They had a special!” Henrietta, re-emerging. “The hind leg of the world fried in butter!”
“Delicious!” Bob, ready to gorge. “It’s Sunday isn’t it? So that means it’ll give us the power of hindsight.”
“Don’t we already have that?”—Petit Ami
“Oh yeah, I suppose we do!” Bob, faltering, then grinning gummily.
Brightened by the missteps of the others, Turtle quickly burnishes their emotions, stands, and takes a sandwich from Henrietta.
While they are munching, Gary enters the courtyard.
“What’s all this then?” the words coming out all stale and chewed, because Gaz was someone who had seen it all before.
“It’s a box, but we don’t know what’s inside!” Henrietta, offering her nipples to Gary absent-mindedly, such was his power as an all-knowing, old-timey slut.
“What makes you think there’s anything inside? Maybe it is thick all the way thru,” Gazza, blowing their minds as per.
“Oh oops!” Henrietta, tucking away her titties for another time.
“Shit man, that makes total sense!” Bob tryin’ to beef up to match Gazzer, but his squirty flower leaks when his chest puffs up, quickly reminding him of his own place in the world, which is also a good one.
Frog comes out through the white stained-glass plastic door, fag drooling out his mouth, gold earring glinting in the moonlight.
“That’s a black box.”—Frog
“Well, OBVIOUSLY!” The jesters chorus, keen to come together in this moment of fresh meat on the table.
“No…” Frog looking each of them deep in the eye as if raising a glass to their souls, “you weren’t listening properly. Open yer lugholes. That is a black box. Nothing more. That’s it.”
“But there is something inside everything!” Turtle presses.
“Oh yeah? And how do you know that for sure?! It didn’t tell you!” Henrietta, misplacing the context, guarding self-identification slightly too strongly as usual.
“It didn’t need to. It has revealed itself by the fact of its existence,” Frog, fanning open palms.
“But a box is a vessel, and so, by its very birth it must contain something,” Petit Ami, stroking invisible goatee.
“Nah, I reckon there’s about five hundred and twenty-one pennies in there. How much do you wanna bet?”—Gaz
“This isn’t balloons in a car Gary, it isn’t the Saturday fête,” the bimbo/prophet, gently turning Gaz back inside towards his chair.
“Wait, what’s this?” Turtle, up close, hands on the edge of the black, pupils sunrising over its corner.
“Oh wow! Something has sprouted from inside of it!” Henrietta, clapping with childish enthusiasm, her stomach now full and warm, nap time incoming, baggy pants billowing in the chill as they’ve just crossed over into the mid-night of 3am-ish.
“Did we get locked in for this?”—Bob
“Hmm, maybe it’s just growing out of your psychic sick though B/P? It’s coming from the outside, not from the inside out…”—Petit Ami
“Are you sure??” Turtle, enthralled, strumming on their tuck.
“We can’t know for sure, unless, does it have roots?!”—Petit Ami
“But roots grow down, that proves nothing. Although it does of course prove that a black box is fertile ground,” B/P, giving Frog a nod.
“Proof… I don’t know if I want that. This isn’t a concrete block!” Henrietta, turning a cartwheel for emphasis.
“Death is life’s great mystery. That’s why we invent stories for it,” Gazza, having crept back outside, attracted like a magnet to the pocketable euphoria of looking up at the night.
“Death??” Turtle, snapping out of their minute focus, wondering worriedly if they’ve missed something.
“That’s wrong amigo. Death is the one thing we know for certain. We know it is an ending, not a beginning. There is no mystery to it. Humans just can’t handle the truth of that one. But it’s pretty obvious…” a frog who had crawled up from the drain, keen to school them in the life-cycles it knew well, having escaped the learning environment of the petting zoo that kept taddies on
“The other day I was walking and I saw that the cops had pulled someone over. Inside the boot in a cardboard box was a tortoise and two birds that looked like speckled chickens. Maybe they were dead, or drugged. Either way they were very still and I couldn’t tell if their souls were still in them,” Petit Ami, clearing throat.
“I’ve gotta make friends with the smugglers man, at least they won’t always be on their phones.”
“Yeah, they know they’re important, so they aren’t always trying to fake it,” Turtle, teeth chattering with excitement.
“And you’ve heard the rumours haven’t you? That the guys selling mojitos to tourists on the beach keep ‘em in a black bin bag hidden inside a municipal manhole.”—Bob
“A soul inside an idea inside an oyster inside a mutt inside a gargoyle inside an effervescent everywoman inside a part-time drug dealer inside a cage fighter inside a dying jester would still smell as strong!” Gaz, skipping in the corner, the light of the sun reflected by the moon bouncing in turn off the bald curve of his skull.
Twins enter the smoking area, hands already rolling baccy. One carries a guitar and wears a ponytail, the other is decorated in symbols and flags, but seems a little limp in comparison.
“Oh, sorry to interrupt. What’s going on out here?” the musician, pulling up an invisible seat using her jaw as leverage, keen not to tug too hard and shatter whatever is taking place.
The other twin, wanting to prove themself by playing the macho card of being able to change the mood at will, heads straight for the box and plonks down their ass, using it as a stool.
“NOOOOOO” Turtle, clawing their jeans.
“ARRRGGGGH” Petit Ami, scratching at the sky.
A two-person, horrendous ripple.
“Wait… Do you feel anything?” Henrietta, turning grey with anticipation, cracking knuckle. “Is it telling you anything?” They were in a bar named Babyish Babylon after all, and it was a place of questioning.
The sour twin shakes their head and bounces their butt up and down for emphasis, clip hooks and keys jangling into the fading night.
“But you two are twins right?” the bimbo/prophet, foxing up to their skins.
“Yeah, obviously,” they say in unison, despite their lack of physical similarity. “And do you know what is inside the other?” Bob, starting the ignition.
“Or are you mysteries to each other?” Henrietta, jumping on.
“To be honest, there is so little mystery between us, having been born on the same day in the same hour by the same parent in the same house, and built a life together whether we wanted to or not, that what little mystery there is, we try and stoke. One way to do that is to not put words to the parts of each other that we cannot see. A deliberate lack of language maintains the mystery,” the musical twin stamps her foot twice for emphasis, a flamenco kick.
“But don’t you wanna know? Isn’t that mystery for mystery’s sake?”—Bob
“Mystery is never mystery for mystery’s sake. It’s for the sake of what it blooms.” Gaz, now lying flat on the concrete, face swimming with stars, finally having gotten to the bottom of his pint of stout, where most of his sneaky mandy had sunk to, the white crystals shrouded by the thick black of the booze.
“But what about the joy of the reveal?” a head peeks over the wall, covered in highlights and glitter, stretching their arches in their strappy sandals to see over.
“What do you mean?” Henrietta, cycling her little bike up to the point of the stranger’s nose.
“Well, over here we’re having a REVEAL soirée… LOOK!” Next to the head, up floats a massive, spherical black balloon.
“CAN I POP IT! CAN I POP IT!” Bob, waterfalling.
“I mean, it’s not yours to pop, it’s Dan and Cheryl’s, but I can ask… DAZ! I’VE GOT A JESTER HERE WHO WANTS TO POP THE BALLOON” the head, bellowing.
Bob was now so close to the balloon that his breath was making its own weather system. And, consciously or subconsciously, his muscles and neurons couldn’t help themselves. Bob tips his barbed cone hat forward and—
A confetti of purple, yellow, white and black rains down across the courtyard, the fence, and whatever lay on the other side.
“What little scamp has done this?” a pissed voice giggles.
“What the hell does it mean?”—Darren
“Where’s Tracey?? Didn’t she set it up in the shop?” a high voice freaks.
“I wanna know what’s in me belly man!! Does it mean it’s quadruplets?”—Cheryl
The youngest of the family, save for the bairns, steps up to the plate.
“It was me. I’ve been trying to tell you Auntie… YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IS IN THERE!!” The next generation, tryin’ to stand tough in the face of Darren’s diamanté wristwatch.
“WELL OBVIOUSLY! I’M NOT AN IDIOT!” Cheryl, wailing a return. “I won’t know for sure until it comes out next week.”
“Yeah, you’ve gotta have a hole in yer head to speak out what’s in there. And the bab won’t talk till it’s err… at least one month!” Darren, thinking he should start reading them books.
Pam, one of the party matriarchs, turns to the young sweetheart guarding the threshold and holds her ciggie up to speak, its red end dancing, her chuckling neck gettin’ speckled with ash and dew, “Don’t worry pet, we all know that, we just wanted to enjoy the sensation of a R-E-V-E-A-L! Of course it’s implied that we haven’t a bloody clue what we’re revealing. I can’t see inside ‘er belly, never mind inside the babbie’s head, or yer head, can I!”
“Wait… WHAT?” Cheryl and Daz, united.
“Well obviously! It’s all just for fun, isn’t it,” Pam, starting to spread BBQ sauce on a slice of classic white.
“Errr no. What are you talking about? This is the first time we’ll get to know the bab.”—Cheryl
“I mean sure, you’ll know something, but it isn’t what you think. You might know which way the flesh has turned for now, but it’ll tell ya nowt of who they really are. You’re gunna have to wait years for that babe. And anyway, there is no final destino,” Pam, plonking a butterflied sausage on top of the bread.
“I thought we just wanted a nice get-together, I didn’t know you were dead serious about it,” Pam, slightly turned off from taking the first bite. She hadn’t realised she’d brought about a daughter quite so literal and trusting of whatever landed on ‘er head.
Oh well, the fact that I don’t know ‘er, just goes to prove me point! Pam inside ‘er head, laughing while the mouth bites down.
Once Palm had gulped it, she continued, all of the rest of them still irritatingly open-gobbed, “And now you’ve made this sweetheart lose their head they are so pressed. When it’s your fault anyway…”
Gemma chimes in, thinking herself foolproof, “I just don’t get the whole non-binary thing.”
Palm rolls her big body, shrugging chips onto the floor, “The likes of yous have made the definition of each gender so unappealing, no wonder the bairns want to tell yas to fuck off. They will make their own types and twists, and reveal their own natures and histories, under whatever veil of words they want, and they’ll send you lot up as the starting gun.”
“Honestly mam, I had no idea you felt that way,” Cheryl, faltering malibu tongue.
“But what if it doesn’t want to speak?” Darren, scratching his chin in a timid attempt at getting inside.
“Well then, we’ll speak for it,” Donna, the other matriarch, wanting to get the fucking cake cut. It was 4am, and they still had two more reveals to go, the family was really poppin’ ‘em out post-pandemmy.
“What if it just wants to move, and breathe, and keep its mysteries potent inside itself, without you lot slapping stickers on its windshield,” the sweetheart continues, tongue lashing harder.
“Wowwwwww! Wooooooah I loved that!” Bob, a knocked-back Fred Astaire, still reeling from the fun of the POP. “I know that it’s all a big guessing game, but isn’t it fun to gamble and gossip!”
“Games always have consequences, Bob,” the bimbo/prophet, acting grave.
“I remember back in the fifties when we used to love a silent star, a femme fatale. But you see kid, people have only ever loved mystery because then they can project what they want onto its supposed void. When, you’re absolutely right—it is a black space, but it is also completely full.” Pam, lighting up a Marlboro Red.
Gemma, Cheryl’s sister, is getting aggy. Brain hurting, she’s begun scratching at the surface of the bump with her french tips, “I wanna knowwwwwwwwwww!”
“Leave them in peace!” the thresholder. “It’s the only time they get alone, stop scanning ‘em! Once they’re born you’re gunna be posting pics 24/7. Just you wait until the backlash happens and the court cases start to flood in!”
Henrietta puts down her phone suddenly, “Errrrr… I guess I shouldn’t have been filming all of that. I don’t know what came over me.”
“What is this impulse? We are meant to be off-leash, instead we’re all little surveillance cameras, without a question in our ‘eads,” Darren coming round to it, having gotten a whiff of the bimbo/prophet’s sick.
“TBH I thought by now something fun would’ve happened, but it’s 5am and no one has gotten fisted or said anything revolutionary. Sometimes things get caught on camera by chance, but I haven’t even tugged a tit knowing Auntie Helen is live streaming the lot. We never used to be so under the thumb.”—Cheryl
“I tug on yer tits because I want to know you. I know nothing of you before I meet you, so I want to ask you,” the B/P, ventriloquising Pam’s past.
“It isn’t like this everywhere you know, not yet,” Petit Ami gulping their phone down their gullet for effect, but then immediately regretting it, remembering the battery, wires and boards inside the thing they’ve only known as object.
“Do you reckon mystery will ever become trendy again Granny?” the wee one, cuddling up to Pam.
“It depends on the value we give to it my darling, it depends on its currency.” Pam had been an economist before getting up the duff at sixteen.
“What did you say your name was again?” Petit Ami to Pam.
“I didn’t darling, but it’s Pam, or sometimes me mates call me Palm.”
“Shame this wall is in the way isn’t it? I cannae see a thing,” Bob, being a dafty.
“Yeah but you know what, I think it has made the conversation what it is,” Henrietta, weeping willow.
It’s my name that’s in the box. But I won’t tell them how to make it molt. I’m tired of so-called answers, Gary, inside himself, drifting off into his forever sleep.
“I’m happy that this will be my last conversation,” Gaz, his back getting colder against the concrete.
“… My day to day play having been filmed, my every move captured…” the bimbo/prophet speaking aloud a signal from the future, picking it up via the tendons of the babby in the bump.
“…And then my friends and I getting cancelled for experimenting, and one of them commits suicide because it is all on record…” B/P channelling the future WIDE OPEN, stepping up on the black box, balancing, using it as a soapbox.
“Did they do something bad though?” Bob, the fucking narc, tugging the wide leg of B/P’s pants for them to get dowwwwwn.
“We all did things, things that have no relation to adults, but have a relation to learning how to be an adult. It’s a time when we also deserve a shroud, a belly.”
“The record! The record!” Petit Ami, picking up the telepathic pain.
“The mobile phone is a channel to Hell. To a place without context, without my bodily knowledge. Awareness is good, but to project my brain inside a context my body doesn’t know…” one of the bairns, accidentally catching sight of their glowing screen and losing the thread.
“It’s 6am, shall we go to the club?”—Petit Ami
“Why don’t you lot come to Granny Palm’s house? She’s got a good sound system, and everything we need to dance to New Monkey and have a fry up.”
“But… What about the box?” the sour twin, turning sweeter, slapping it a couple of times with flattened lifelines, the rhythm of resuscitation.
“Let’s keep its skin on. By our obsession with it, it has told us everything we need to know,” the bimbo/prophet sounds out into the black of the night.
A Secret? How Old-Fashioned!